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The Donald Trump Effect             (December 17, 2015)

It is the current fashion to expect truth to defer to feelings. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the demands of feelings are limitless, and the truth has little reputation for generosity. (Observation # 512)

There is an editorial in this day’s National Post: Why people listen to Trump and Le Pen.

The view expressed is that both represent unsatisfactory options: The National Front of Marine Le Pen is "xenophobic," and Donald Trump is "egomaniacal" and "unfit to govern."

On the other hand, it is argued that both Trump and Le Pen should not be dismissed – for they both ask questions which "establishment" politicians refuse to ask.

We concur with this view. People have simply grown weary of the pervasive and impenetrable cloud and fog of political correctness, which obscures the mind, baffles the power of judgment, and makes rational discourse about reality a cultural taboo.

The root of the corruption, the source of the poison, the wellspring of the febrile madness of political correctness is simply the rot of an untenable egalitarianism. In the final analysis, political correctness is the culminating point of a devotion to the egalitarian ideal. In a world where everything is -- in theory – equal to everything else, it becomes impossible to state the simple reality: some things are better than others.

Thus, political correctness has become a reflection of that totalitarian mind-set described in 1984 -- in which Winston Smith realized that the essence of freedom is the ability to express simple truths: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

The aim of political correctness may be admirable: feelings should not be hurt; harmony may thereby be attained. But the cost is paid in the coin of freedom -- and is measured in the balance sheet of fear – the fear of stating what is true.

These costs are a wonderful example of the malign effects which ensue when reality is required to defer to fantasy: Ideals are often like the Sirens of mythology: they are a seductively attractive lure to shipwreck.*

The specific example which is most relevant at this time is the notion that all cultures and all religions are equal. This proposition, if true, would suggest that Nirvana is just around the next bend in the road: a few more steps and mankind will have achieved the happy real estate of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. That is the great and seductive appeal.

The problem is that it is not true.


In particular, the "establishment" politicians, and the " judicious" commentators keep telling us that Islamism is a peculiar aberration that has nothing to do with the religion of Islam, and that the religion itself is benignly compatible with the cultures modern western democratic societies.

This reflects the common wisdom: when the truth is uncomfortable, it is often ignored. In the world of an artificially conjured harmony, it is assumed that, if facts are ignored, they will simply fold their awkward tents and steal conveniently away. They will, hopefully, leave little suicide notes inside the Hallmark cards bearing the happy sentiments: ‘Best wishes for a contented life among the lemonade trees.’

The problem is the Koran is full of unpleasant notions about killing unbelievers and apostates. Islam holds itself out to be above secular government and claims that it is beyond mockery or criticism.

Countries in which Islam is popular are noted neither for their prosperity nor for their freedoms.

While support for Sharia Law – which suggests the supremacy of religion over secular government – varies widely – it is generally strong among Muslim populations. Nothing could be more antithetical towards the idea of liberal democracy. In a rational world, that fact alone should give some pause to the notion of easy multiculturalism.

In short, we see the religion of Islam as a problem because it embodies so many values which are inconsistent with or antithetical to our own. Pretending that cultural differences do not exist, or that they are minor or of no concern is the dangerous propaganda of political correctness.

As more and more has become known about the religion of Islam, more and more of us common folk have come to disbelieve the propaganda.

As the establishment politicians continue to repeat the same old mantras, the shiny nap wears off; the false threads begin show through.

It is no surprise that there is an element of relief which transforms into enthusiasm when some few politicians seem willing to recognize the truth. That they may not be the best candidates in other respects seems to become less and less relevant.

The truth, so long withheld, diminished, and befogged, acquires an overpowering lustre.

That is particularly true when it is realized that the "harmony" supposedly purchased comes at the cost of refusing to uphold those principles which have created a high degree of wealth, freedom, and fairness in western societies. That price is found to be unacceptably high.

We agree with the National Post that "establishment" politicians would be well advised to recognize the obvious: some cultural differences are profound, and some cultural practices produce better outcomes than others.

It is time that "equality" should defer to "merit."

*Observation #492




A Note on Idealism.         (November 15, 2015)

The attacks on Paris last Friday have led us to consider the topic of Idealism.

We have recently written about tribalism, and we think that tribalism represents a particular example of the more general concept of idealism. While tribalism is instinctive, the tribe itself is informed by ideal concepts. Does not tribalism envision a complete and coherent unity of the tribe? Does the tribe not use propaganda to suggest its unassailable superiority when compared to other, lesser tribes? Does the tribe not often employ religion – something not vulnerable to logic and common sense – as a means of achieving a lasting loyalty and commitment from its members? All these notions – complete unity, unassailable superiority, and invulnerable religion – represent ideals.

We see the terrorists of the "Islamic State" as, essentially, idealists committed to a tribal superiority.

They envision – so we understand – a Caliphate which will be true to some theoretical concept of the conduct of life as envisioned in the seventh century. So powerful is this appeal of the ideal state, that murder and suicide are seen merely as necessary means to a noble end.

We see it as representing exactly the mind-set of the communist experiments in the last century, in which ideal states of brotherhood and equality were imagined. The problem in achieving the ideal, it seems, is that it invariably involves much coercion: the ideal is a Procrustean Bed which requires the chopping off of useful appendages, the pitiless sacrifice of reasonable, lesser goods. As we have observed elsewhere: "The nobler the ideal, the greater the evil which can be justified in its pursuit."*

We have long maintained that idealism can be very dangerous, because it looks to "ideals" – which by their very nature are concepts or theories, and do not necessarily have very much to do with the real world.

The real world, despite its glories and general magnificence, has some very severe limitations. It is built on a concept of pure pragmatism. What works, survives, what doesn’t work, dies. There are no value judgments involved; justice and equality are nowhere to be found. Nor is there any universal definition of what works: everything depends upon everything else. Thus, what works in one environment may not work in another – in a different time or location.

The ideal of the Caliphate, with its rigid and cruel social codes seems unlikely to work in the long run – just as any communist experiment – with its insistence on central planning and equality – is clearly doomed. Both are "top down" conceptions. Real lives are expected to conform to idealized notions of how the world should work.

If the terrorists have one idea of the proper conduct of the world, western civilization has another.

Generally speaking, the western world has embraced capitalism, which is not an ideal system. It was not planned, but, like Topsy, "just grew." It grew out of the interactions of citizens seeking to maximize their prosperity. It appears that markets, while not particularly fair, are the most efficient means of enabling the production and distribution of goods.



It is also true that western societies have gradually replaced religion – which is a "top down" authoritarian and arbitrary force in society – with science – which looks to find out how the world actually works. Thus, many of the religious strictures about the rτle of women and sexual conduct have given way to a more pragmatic view of the realities of human nature.

This is not to say that western societies are not burdened with their own forms of idealism.

Probably as a response to the horror of the Holocaust, western societies have attempted to reject the more destructive effects of tribalism. They have been influenced by the egalitarian ideals of communism. The Europeans have formed a Union which is meant to subsume national tribalism. More importantly, the idea of multiculturalism – founded upon the ideal of the equality of cultures -- has gained much favour.

The great difficulty, of course, is that multiculturalism – within a single country -- can only be successful if differences among cultures are superficial. A difficulty arises when cultural differences are not superficial, but profound – when cultures are not, in fact, equal.

There is, we think, one great truth about life that can be ignored only at great peril: some ideas are better than others.

Thus, looking at the evidence, it seems clear that societies which are open to science, which favour gender equality, and which cherish freedom of speech, are more successful in creating the opportunities for prosperity and individual fulfilment than those which hold religion to be pre-eminent, which see genders as unequal, and which are rigidly authoritarian.

It’s unfortunate, but there is no easy, happy entente to be made between opposites. You either believe religion is the most important arbiter of human conduct, or you don’t. You either believe that men and women should have equal opportunities or you don’t. You either believe that freedom to criticize is desirable, or you don’t.

The matter of multiculturalism gives us a clue to the type of idealism which burdens western society. It pretends to too much equality; it imagines a freedom from dissent, it yearns for a Big Rock Candy mountain where no one is distressed, where everyone is buzzing harmoniously in a hive of contentment.

In two words, we suppose, it could be called "political correctness." It is a refusal to recognize that some ideas are better than others, and that some ideas must be defended, even at the risk of – we shudder to utter the word – conflict.

James Delingpole has written in the November 15 edition of Breitbart News an article entitled: "Does the West yet have the resolve to deal with the Islamist threat?"

The answer is, essentially, "No." We respond with expressions of wounded dismay, and a plethora of candlelight vigils. No one wishes to appear Islamaphobic. President Obama classifies the attack as a mysterious and elusive abberance, directed at humanity in general. Mr. Trudeau presses ahead with his plans to admit, with precipitous haste, twenty-five thousand Syrians.

What we are witnessing is a battle between two visions of humanity. One has the primitive and barbaric ideal of life determined by religion precepts of the seventh century; the other is more enlightened, but burdened by the ideal notion that when facts are ignored, they will go away.

*Observation # 242



Some more Notes on Tribalism: the Niqab and Multiculturalism.          (November 12, 2015)

We have recently become aware of the theory – proposed by E. O. Wilson* –  that tribalism is instinctive in mankind. This natural tribalism provides a great benefit – for the success of our species depends in large measure upon our ability to co-operate, and tribalism implies co-operation. At the same time, tribal thinking requires a certain conformity of thought. It tends to be emotional, rather than rational.

Thus, while the scientific method suggests an examination of the evidence before leaping to conclusions, it does not find an easy welcome in human thinking. The natural tendency is to think with the crowd – evidence be damned. This probably accounts for the "bandwagon effect" – once an idea achieves a certain level of acceptance – it becomes impervious to any objection – no matter how reasonable.

Thus we see stock market and housing bubbles, the demonization of saturated fat, and the current craze for the dismantling of industrial civilization in order to stop the climate from changing.

Last evening, a program about the human brain (PBS, The Brain with David Eagleman) gave further insights into this phenomenon. It suggested that, indeed, the brain is designed to respond favourably to helpful, co-operative behaviour. When a puppet show depicts the actions of a helpful bear and an obstructive bear, children less than 12 months old respond positively to the helpful bear.

The program also showed that some portion of our brain is devoted to a reading of the faces of others. This reading is reflected in sympathetic responses of our own facial muscles to the facial messages perceived during conversation. Those whose responses have been inhibited by the use of botox – which paralyzes facial muscles – are less adept at reading facial clues. Similarly, it was shown  that someone affected with Asperger’s syndrome, who was unable to read facial clues, had a whole new world opened up to him when a stimulative brain technique altered his brain responses.

We find this to be extremely relevant to the recent discussions about the wearing of the niqab.

Besides being a symbol of profound cultural differences, such masking would appear to inhibit the exchange of information through facial expression which is natural to our species.

We have always complained that masking – while often seen as a symbol of submission to oppressive cultural values – may also be seen as a symbol of superiority. Someone who hides his face is claiming the right to read the faces of others, while refusing to allow his own to be read. Indeed, the wearing of the niqab may be seen as a thoroughly anti-social – and therefore anti-human -- act.

The program also dealt with the negative aspect of tribalism which we have suggested – the conformity of thought. The "bandwagon effect" is particularly dangerous when propaganda is used to promote insularity – to advance the proposition that one’s own tribe is inherently superior – and that other tribes are evil. An experiment showed that instinctive reactions to a hand being stabbed with a needle varied when the hands were labelled. People reacted more strongly when the stabbed hand was labelled as belonging to their own tribe – Christian – Druid (yes, we’re kidding) or atheist.


It is insular tribalism which gives rise to genocide – where one tribe becomes convinced that another tribe is inherently evil, and less than human.

Now – the problem arises – how can the advantages of tribalism be maintained, and the great disadvantages– inter-tribal warfare – be expunged.

The program referred to an interesting elementary school experiment in which blue-eyed children were told that they were superior, and that brown-eyed children were inferior, and treated as such. The effect was predictable – one tribe became convinced of its superiority, the other of its inferior status.

On a subsequent day, the tribal identifications were revered, so that each child could perceive the effects of positive and negative propaganda.

The natural conclusion was that eye colour has nothing to do with status and value. By the same reasoning, skin colour is similarly irrelevant.

So far so good. Skin and eye colour are poor indicators of the minds and values of others.

But this message, we believe, is much too simple. The suggestion is that all we have to do is to look beyond superficialities to see the humanity of those belonging to different tribes.

This conveniently overlooks the fact that some cultural differences are not superficial, and not trivial. A tribe that believes that all important matters may be decided by reference to its own particular tribal religion is not really compatible with a tribe that believes in another set of religious values, or even further -- that religion should be separated from decisions about the conduct of society.

Tribal insularity may indeed be reduced by a conscious effort on the part of tribes to understand each other’s point of view. But to pretend that there are no real and significant differences is naive.

That is why we think multiculturalism – the attempt to value all cultures equally in a single country -- cannot work unless the cultural differences are minor. If one culture claims that religion is paramount, that women are inferior beings, and that unbelievers are legitimate targets for oppression, there can be no real entente with a culture that claims that religion is secondary, that women are equal, and that atheism is a legitimate response to the world.

That is why we think that the idealism implicit in multiculturalism is misplaced. If we are instinctively tribal, it is surely not possible to pretend that we are not, and that deeply held opposing tribal values are like eye colour.

We think there is much wisdom in an ancient tribal saying: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." In time, it is likely that the global village may come to some general understanding of the most helpful and productive ways of organizing a society. Until that happens, it seems unlikely that political correctness will be a viable temporary substitute.

Political correctness is a dangerous, hypocritical idealism: it is a determined pretence that the world of competitive struggle, in which some things are inevitably better than others, is, at its core, an egalitarian utopia of sweetness and light. As Aldous Huxley so aptly observed, "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." (Observation # 457)

*See Drivel, October 12 below.
See also Drivel, March 9, 2014



Some notes on Tribalism          (October 12, 2015)

We saw the other day, a documentary concerning E.O. Wilson, Of Ants and Men. (PBS September 30.)

Mr. Wilson is a controversial biologist who introduced the concept of Sociobiology -- the study of the biological basis of human behaviour. It is in contrast to the notion – perhaps a more optimistic one – that the human beings are born as a "tabula rasa"– a blank slate upon which cultural practices are inscribed.

If one accepts that behaviour of animals is largely determined by biology – it seems impossible to reject the notion that human beings – who are simply very intelligent animals -- are similarly programmed. It is clear that insects such as ants and bees are clearly "programmed" for certain social roles. The Monarch butterfly makes an extraordinary journey which could not be learned at The Butterfly Academy. Birds appear to have been programmed for certain types of nest building. It does not seem unreasonable to hold that mammals in general operate according to certain instincts.

We are fascinated by what makes mankind tick – and are especially intrigued by the existence of contradictory impulses. We have noted that there is a contradiction in the two great strands in human civilization – competition and co-operation. All nature appears to be a competitive struggle for survival – but, in social animals, co-operation – a seemingly subverting, anti-competitive element in any individual – is an aid in the struggle of the group. Indeed, it could be argued that the capacity for co-operation is what has led to man’s triumph as a species.

That element of co-operation can be considered as a biological element in human society. It has been selected for by evolution.

Another way of describing that inherent tendency to co-operate is through the term " tribalism." If tribalism is a biologically determined instinct, then it suggests some limitations to the extent to which social nirvana can be achieved.

Indeed, in the documentary referred to, Mr. Wilson uses the examples of sports team rivalries and religion as manifestations of inherent tribalism.

We find the argument quite convincing, and it explains many observable phenomena. What could be more utterly irrelevant, more mind-numbingly trivial than the victory of the Hometown Hawks over the Pittsville Pee-Wees? And yet, in the stands, there are the screams of ecstasy and groans of despair. Caps and T-shirts – ritual apparel -- are bought, faces are painted, pilgrimages are undertaken, and financial sacrifices are made. There are marches – and dances in the street.

Are not these the manifestations of tribalism?

Similarly, as Charles Mackay* has noted – few human beings can resist a bandwagon, bursting at the seams with enthusiasts, rolling down a hill at a great and exhilarating speed. We are subject to the "extraordinary popular delusions and madness of crowds." Whether it is tulip bulbs, technology stocks, housing, or anthropogenic climate change, people latch on to an idea, and are carried along with tribal enthusiasm until the bandwagon hits the rock of evidence at the bottom of the hill.

We have often remarked that Francis Bacon’s idea of the scientific method does not find an easy welcome in the human mind. Conclusions should be derived from the evidence of particulars; one should not attempt to make the evidence fit the hypothesis. But how dry that is! There is little space for tribal enthusiasm. Human beings may, indeed, respond to evidence – but they respond more powerfully and easily to the co-operative tribal appeal of what is popular at the moment.

We think that inherent, instinctive tribalism suggests a certain caution in the current popular attempts to create "multicultural" societies. There is a certain ancient wisdom contained in the saying: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." This is a recognition that foreigners who travel to lands where the culture – where the tribal practices are different – would be well advised to accept those practices rather than ignore them. The attempt to change them – which seems to be a hallmark of our current multicultural ideals – seems somewhat presumptuous.





This is particularly true when it is believed that tribal values can be dismissed with the wave of a legislative or judicial wand.

Indeed, we have long held that sometimes differences in cultural values are not superficial, but profound. In such cases, the attempt to pretend that multiculturalism can actually work seems particularly foolish:

To be in favour of multiculturalism, one must believe in the equality of cultures. To believe in the equality of cultures, one must hold that no idea about the conduct of life is better than any other – that differences between freedom and repression, church and state, gender equality and patriarchy -- between cruel traditions and the attempt to see things as they are – that all such distinctions are irrelevant. In other words, one has to be a complete idiot -- or perversely bent on cultural suicide. (Observation # 414)

In the current Canadian election campaign, it is interesting to see the liberal bien pensants favouring the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies, while popular support among Canadians is for banning it. The bien pensants are theoretical idealists. They think that tribal symbols do not matter.

The fact that the New Democratic Party is losing support in Quebec may well be traced to its position that the niqab is appropriate attire at a citizenship ceremony. For what is the niqab but a powerful, multi-faceted symbol -- of the oppression of women, of rejection of the local custom of transparency, of disregard for traditional attitudes to security, of the primacy of religion, of an arrogant refusal to deal with other citizens on equal terms?

Finally, we should note that there are implications of a biologically determined tribalism, as well, for religion.

Religion, in our view, is the single element which stands between mankind and the achievement of a reasonable, rational society – one based on evidence rather than supposition, superstition, and conjecture.

We have long hoped that religion, which requires the belief of extraordinary nonsense and patent absurdities, might eventually defer to reason.

At the heart of religion is deception; the range is from feel - good bamboozlement to wolf in sheep’s clothing. (Observation # 81)

We have noted the possibility that religion has been genetically selected for – but we have tended not to be persuaded by this – we have still expressed the hope that reason might still triumph.

At the same time, we have seen religion as essentially tribal in nature:

Religion is essentially tribal in nature. It has little to do with individual rationality, and much to do with the emotional comfort provided by "groupthink." (Observation #364) 

But if tribalism is inherent, and religion is part of that tribalism, we must be less optimistic.

Religion will persist. We would still like to think it could be de-clawed and de-fanged. The best we can do is to make rooting for Jesus – or Mohammed – or Glooscap -- just like rooting for the Blue Jays. Lots of passionate loyalty for something which is irrelevant to anything of real importance.

We are not, essentially and intrinsically, rational. The difficulty is to find the least harmful expressions of superstition and primitive tribal emotions. Rooting for the home team and religions without fangs -- reduced to ritual cheering for the home God -- might be acceptable. (Observation # 465)


*Extraordinary popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
See also Drivel, March 9, 2014.




Some notes on refrigerators                    (September 1, 2015)


Last Wednesday, we arrived at Wind-in-the-Pines to discover that the cold ghost of the resident refrigerator had departed – no doubt tempted by the prospect of some less arduous employment in a more majestic and accommodating igloo in the sky.

The corpse of the device remained. The lights went on when the doors were opened; there was even a detectable hum, but the soul had gone. The remains had begun to stink.

Our first impulse was to call a repair facility in Mariposa -- some thirty minutes distance by car – perhaps forty-five minutes in the more stately "appliance repair van" mode.

But then we began to reflect on the realities of modern residential refrigeration.

The original cabin at Wind-in-the-Pines came fully equipped with a Crosley Shelvador refrigerator. The cabin was built in 1942, and we suspect that the refrigerator was manufactured at about the same time – certainly no later -- and probably earlier -- than that date.

The motor, at the bottom of the machine, occupied about a third of the total space. The top of the refrigerator was gracefully rounded – as the modern fashion of the time dictated. The freezer was a tiny container at the top of the cooling space. It would accommodate two ice trays, a carton of ice cream, and a bag of frozen peas.

Despite the limitations of size, the machine was admirably reliable. We do not know whether it had required any servicing before 1977, when we purchased the property. We do know that it was never serviced from 1977 to 1991, when the cabin was superseded by a Viceroy vacation home which was constructed on another site on the lot.

The refrigerator had lasted about fifty years.

We hauled it to the dump about five years ago. We suspect that, had we plugged it in at the time, in 2010, the great motor would have sprung to life, a film of frost would have begun to form on the shell of the tiny metal freezer, and a satisfactory degree of cold would have prevailed in the rest of the compartment.

The new Viceroy, in 1991, was provided with a used side-by-side Admiral refrigerator. It was, in the modern fashion of its time, of a sophisticated almond colour, with a striking black glass panel on each door. When it passed to its reward in about 2000 – we are not certain of the exact date -- it was approximately twenty-six years old.

At that time, our first impulse, when we discovered it in a moribund state, was to call a repair facility in Mariposa – some thirty minutes distant by automobile. Our second impulse was to consider the advanced age of the machine. Was it worth repairing a twenty-six-year-old device? If one repair were made, were there other weaknesses lurking in the immediate future? Would a newer machine alleviate the burden imposed by the cruel, satanic, grasping sadists at Hydro One?

We decided to let go of the past. We went to Future Shop in Barrington, a somewhat larger town south of Mariposa. The side-by-side fridges were too expensive. Almond, of course, was no longer available. The closest we could come was "leather look" bisque. It was a Maytag. We were assured by the salesman that it would last about fifteen years.

It is very embarrassing to have a conniption fit at Future Shop. The staff seemed utterly unprepared for a customer dropping suddenly to the floor, rolling about in convulsive agony, and being incapable of coherent communication.

A little water was provided; a bench, outside, and in the shade, gave us a chance to recall some old nursery rhyme favourites – "Hickory dickory dock --" "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall --" "There was an old woman who hadn’t a fridge--"



In an hour or two, we were able to think rationally again. There was an excellent chance that we would predecease the Maytag. Why worry?

Now -- as we have said, we are not quite sure of the dates -- but it seems that the Maytag – the subject of our present account -- has lasted some twelve or fifteen years. This time, when we discovered the defunct fridge, we were even more certain that it was not worth repairing. We were also certain that "leather look" bisque – like the rounded top of the Crosley -- has faded into refrigerator history.

We understand perfectly what is going on. The aim of the manufacturers is – not surprisingly -- to sell as many refrigerators as possible. The way to do this is to introduce new fashions – to make those with white, almond, "leather look" bisque, avocado, gold, or brown appliances perceive themselves as the certified laughing stocks of the refined and civilized world. Their aim is to stir discontent, foment envy, kindle aspiration, and induce shame.

They have, then, introduced stainless steel, and smudgeless stainless steel. The freezer has been at the top for generations. Let us, they have said, put the freezer at the bottom, and make the "top mount" freezer a cause for sleepless, despairing nights for anyone who has the least pretense to be au courant – to be living, with assured serenity, in the modern age.

The longevity issue is related to the fashion issue. If the aim is to get people to change their refrigerators every few years – through a change in fashion – that behaviour is reinforced if the machines are built to die quickly, and with only token resistance. The whole project is further enhanced if parts are made prohibitively expensive, and repairmen are assisted in acquiring a taste for world cruises and Lamborghinis. Indeed, we have little doubt that graduates of appliance repair courses are rewarded with their choice of either prize for that very purpose.

Well. We ended at Best Buy – the successor to Future Shop – in Mariposa.

The stainless steel machine with "top mount" freezer – the one sending the subliminal message "This fridge is for losers" – while inexpensive – lacked a light in the freezer compartment. That same compartment looked smaller than the one in the Maytag, and the whole machine seemed rather small for the space provided in the kitchen.

We were temporarily swayed by a double-door refrigerator with a "bottom mount" freezer since it was wider, and would fill the space better. We have always regarded the "bottom mount" freezer as an obvious marketing ploy in which convenience was sacrificed for fashion.

Who wants to root around near the floor for the frozen peas? True, sliding shelves have made these freezers more convenient – and we wavered, briefly. But then we suddenly realized that – unless the freezer drawer can be fully removed from the device -- the bottom of the refrigerator is virtually inaccessible for cleaning. The drawer in the fridge under consideration was not, in fact, removable. The saleslady, who had undoubtedly spent her early years as a contortionist with the Mariposa Circus, attempted to show us the how the cleaning could be accomplished.

It was fortunate that Warriors’ Memorial Hospital was nearby, and the ambulance arrived at the store within minutes. A couple of burly paramedics were able to extract the saleslady from the freezer compartment with relatively little damage to the wire shelves.

We understand that, after a few weeks in a straightening device, the saleslady herself should be able to return to work – although a return to the circus seems somewhat less likely.

So much for the "bottom mount" freezer.

We ended paying far more than we had intended for a stainless steel side-by-side machine made by Frigidaire. It is wide enough, convenient enough – and it has a light in the freezer compartment.

Unfortunately, delivery cannot be made for two weeks.

This is not as disastrous as it sounds. You see, in the laundry room – next to the kitchen – we have a little " back-up" fridge. It has a top mount freezer. It is a gold-coloured Kenmore. It must be about thirty-five to forty-five years old.

It is working perfectly.




Just for Laughs – Gags                August 25, 2015


We still think that this program – featuring pantomime "candid camera" gags -- is the funniest show on television.

Recently, we have become aware that there are two different versions of the show: one of them is occasionally brilliantly funny; the other – featuring an entirely different cast – never is.

The successful show uses a formula which has the potential for comic greatness. The cast illustrates, in pantomime, the trick which they plan to play on an unsuspecting member of the public. This engages the audience, and puts it on the side of the tricksters. The audience becomes involved in the triumphant side of the nefarious plot. Their sympathies are not with the victims.

Then the deception is put into practice.

The gags often play upon the helpfulness of strangers. An engaging character asks: "Could you just look after my child, my dog, my sales booth filled with expensive vases – while I go to the washroom?" ( Indeed, in many episodes, we think the porta-potty should be given five star billing at the bottom of the screen.)

Once the hapless stranger has been engaged, the world proceeds to go awry. The rabbit hole opens up, and the world ceases to make sense. The child turns out to have a fondness for varieties of anti-social mayhem for which the minder is, quite naturally, held responsible. The dog is, by means of a clever diversion, switched for a skunk.

We still subscribe to the Leacockian theory of laughter: it is a cry of triumph, as the laugher perceives a suddenly revealed incongruity. It is, essentially, an intellectual triumph, which flourishes in the intellectual realm. If sympathetic – or repulsive – emotions are engaged, the laughter vanishes. We have often used the example of the rotund, formally dressed gentleman who slips, ignominiously, on a banana peel. We laugh at the incongruity between his pretensions and his fate – but only so long as we do not know that he is en route to his daughter’s wedding, that he has broken his hip, and will likely be in a wheelchair, unable to pursue his employment, for many months.

It is difficult to make jokes about the holocaust, ISIS beheadings, or the plight of a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, for the same reason.

Indeed, we find some of the Just for Laughs gags simply do not work for us because we are repelled by rotten teeth, urination, and farting.

Most of the time, however, we laugh. We see an incongruity – there is a world which makes perfect sense to us – because we understand the trick – and there is another world being perceived by the "victim."



Yes, we are sorry.  We used the word "victim." Laughter can be cruel precisely because the emotions are suspended. It was the Duke de la Rochefoucauld who wickedly observed: "The misfortunes of our friends do not entirely displease us." The misfortunes of complete strangers may give rise to laughter.

The victims in the trick have been thrown into a world of uncertainty and emotional turbulence; we are on the safe ground of superior knowledge in a world that makes perfect sense.

We should note that the amusement tends to disappear if the situation of the victim seems too extreme, or if he should become genuinely – and arguably justifiably -- angry. Then our emotions are involved again. What works best is a degree of puzzlement, an element of incomprehension.

Sometimes that degree of puzzlement is exacerbated by a master stroke of comic absurdity.

The other night we saw the victims being asked to hold the leash of an animal – a dog, we suppose – in the back of a truck. When the truck pulled away, the victim was left – apparently the proud possessor of a pet llama. Just at that moment, a policeman came by, and began to write out a ticket. When asked why – he pointed to a municipal sign on the boulevard – the same shape and size of a "no parking sign" – showing the outline of a llama with a red line of prohibition across it.

Thus the absurdity is raised to an entirely new level. The thought that the City of Montreal would have anti-llama signs on a busy street is to bring the bizarre to the level of insanity.

Once a certain level of absurdity and puzzlement has been reached, it is time for the dιnouement. This, perhaps, is the most important part of the sketch: the hapless victim is brought in on the joke. His realization is instantaneous. We assume his gaze is directed to the "just for laughs" logo – or perhaps a film clip that gives away the essence of the plot.

We think that there are a number of things that happen. The victim is transported from his world of emotional puzzlement to ours of intellectual superiority. We share in his triumph. We also share in his relief. If there was, beneath our laughter, any repressed guilt at the deception -- it has been absolved.

The world has been transformed; the muddle has been clarified; we are all reminded that, somewhere beyond apparent chaos, there is the reassurance of a rational world.

The unsuccessful versions of the "Gags" program do not reveal an understanding of the necessity of engaging the audience in the world of deception to begin with. Nor do they see the advantage of allowing the audience to participate in the triumph and relief of the victim as his world is transformed from that of emotional puzzlement to one of shared intellectual superiority.

They tend simply to play tricks on people. That may be mildly amusing, on occasion, but, because such an approach fails to understand the interplay between the rational, the emotional, and the absurd, it will always miss, in some degree, the comic mark.



              A Grumble on Obumble         (August 16, 2015)

            When the mind's all a-jumble --
            With a socialist stain --
            Every gesture's a fumble --
            And "hope" starts to drain.
            When ideas are perverse,
            Each step brings a stumble --
            "Change" is for worse --
            And the world starts to crumble.
            O triumph of dumble
            This terrible tumble!

            It struts in the strain
            Of the ambitiously vain --              
            Of the naively befuddled --
            The dreadful Obumble.



The Problem of (Climate) Predictions (July 26, 2015)


We are occasionally foolish enough to contribute to the commentary threads at a couple of news websites. We are almost always disappointed.

Sometimes our post is quickly shunted to the burial chamber at the bottom of the pile – or it attracts no commentary for other reasons – such as dullness, stupidity, or incomprehensibility.

On other occasions – when our post is allowed to remain for a few seconds of visibility, it attracts venomous disagreement, and we feel compelled to spend much time in self-justification and defence.

We recently commented on the subject of "climate change" – and were witheringly mocked for a failure to keep abreast of the developments in this important field.

We had referred to the fact that, "there has been no global warming for eighteen years."

What we did not realize is that the alarmists, having been alarmed by the lack of global warming predicted by the climate models, have been busily engaged in making the pause disappear. A black cloth has been placed over the awkward data, and then has suddenly been withdrawn to reveal the continuity of warming so long desired.

The response of the warmist community has been jubilant. Once again, the alarmists are on the unimpeachable grounds of truth; they are relieved of the necessity of hemming and hawing, or looking, embarrassed, at the ceiling when the global warming pause is mentioned.

Now, they can immediately assume the satisfying, joyful, attack mode which so often suits their aggressive personalities.

The most significant sleight of hand in this disappearance may be attributed to Tom Karl, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to Inside Climate News, the warming had been masked by "incomplete data,"  which now, with new weather stations, has been improved. In addition, data has been "re-analysed" and temperature trends "corrected."

Of course, it is the "re-analysis" and "correction" that we are asked to trust. In fact, in an attempt to pre-empt criticism, Gavin Schmidt, of the NASA Goddard Institute – who was not involved in the study – has predicted there will be accusations of "data manipulation."

And, of course, in fact, there are voices of suspicion.

According to Drs. Lindzen, Kappenburger and Michaels:

In addition, the authors’ treatment of buoy sea-surface temperature (SST) data was guaranteed to create a warming trend. The data were adjusted upward by 0.12°C to make them "homogeneous" with the longer-running temperature records taken from engine intake channels in marine vessels.

As has been acknowledged by numerous scientists, the engine intake data are clearly contaminated by heat conduction from the structure, and as such, never intended for scientific use. On the other hand, environmental monitoring is the specific purpose of the buoys. Adjusting good data upward to match bad data seems questionable, and the fact that the buoy network becomes increasingly dense in the last two decades means that this adjustment must put a warming trend in the data.

And Judith Curry has said:

My bottom line assessment is this. I think that uncertainties in global surface temperature anomalies is substantially understated. The surface temperature data sets that I have confidence in are the UK group and also Berkeley Earth. This short paper in Science is not adequate to explain and explore the very large changes that have been made to the NOAA data set. The global surface temperature datasets are clearly a moving target. So while I’m sure this latest analysis from NOAA will be regarded as politically useful for the Obama administration, I don’t regard it as a particularly useful contribution to our scientific understanding of what is going on.

And again:

The new NOAA dataset disagrees with a UK dataset, which is generally regarded as the gold standard for global sea surface temperature datasets," she said. "The new dataset also disagrees with ARGO buoys and satellite analyses."

We will not go into the arguments and counter-arguments. Our tiny mind tends to glaze over when we try to deal with too many numbers. The important point, we think, is that the understanding of climate change is at a fairly primitive level.

There is difficulty – first of all in collecting the data -- and then in deciding what to do with it.

In deciding what to do with it – there may be political bias. Those on the left, who envision a world run from a central Command Station on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where David Suzuki, the Pope, Maurice Strong, and Al Gore can arrange for the destruction of industrial civilization, the evacuation of humankind from cities into warm and commodious caves with a concomitant return to Golden Age of fishing and small-scale farming – those visionaries will tend to favour the idea that anthropogenic global warming is a danger that must be averted at any cost.


Those on the right may see things in less draconian terms.

There may also be an ordinary human bias. Once you have chosen your side – the Maple Leafs or the Brooklyn Dodgers – you tend to root for the team. It is difficult, if you have devoted the best part of your professional career to showing that the planet is warming -- as a result of the temperature settings on hot water tanks being placed too high -- to conclude that it isn’t, or that hot water tanks have nothing to do with global temperatures.

Someone has commented that anyone "adjusting" data should not be aware of the effect of the adjustment. Otherwise, there is room for subconscious bias to be expressed. Experiments are properly conducted on a "double blind" basis.

However – let us assume that the climate scientists finally agree on how data should be collected, and how it should be organized and used.

Then what?

Predictions are tricky things. The best predictions are made when random elements can be minimized. We know, pretty much, that when water is heated to 212 degrees Celsius, it will boil. The height above sea level will affect it, of course. But it has happened so often that there is a fairly good degree of confidence about the prediction.

The rainfall next week, or the temperature next year is much more difficult. There are lots of elements which could have an effect and are difficult to foresee. The climate models have been based on a certain assumption about the relationship between atmospheric greenhouse gasses and temperature.

We might note, at this point, that even Mr. Karl’s new, improved, and more convenient data do not show the warming predicted by the computer models.

Thus, there is an element of uncertainty about the relationship between greenhouse gasses and temperatures. It looks as though there might be some other element or elements affecting the global temperature.

Could the sun possibly be involved?

Perhaps there are other factors.

What the alarmists wish us to believe is that not only do we know how to make accurate assessments of current temperatures, but that we can predict them – decades into the future – using estimates of greenhouse gasses as a guide.

But, of course, there is a further step. The alarmists have concluded not only that a degree of warming will take place, but that it can be significantly modified through a reduction of human activity. They do not even consider that the cost of doing so might be in excess of the cost of simply adapting. Nor do they contemplate the difficulty of enforcing compliance to economic policies among disparate nations.

An image comes suddenly to mind. It is Kathleen Wynne in that Liberal Party advertisement, jogging along on a country road, bravely expressing her intention to keep on fighting until climate change lies, battered, and defeated --whimpering piteously on the ring floor.

We think our skepticism on the mater of climate alarmism – despite Mr. Karl’s heroic efforts – to be well justified.

Climate "science" – when it is involved in predictions -- cannot simply rely on our blind trust. Why would we trust those who have not been able to make accurate predictions in the past? Should we accept their earnest assurances, their proclamations of good intent and unimpeachable probity?

Certainly not!

As we replied to our attacker on the commentary thread – we will trust when there is evidence to support that trust – when climate scientists have shown that they can make accurate predictions.

We are very fond of two remarks by James Lovelock, the proponent of the Gaia Theory – and a reformed alarmist:

The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.

The idea of "saving the planet" is a foolish extravagance of romantic Northern ideologues and probably much beyond our ability.


P.S. We find it interesting that alarmists attempt to baffle us with statements such as: "2014 was the hottest year on record."
That conclusion is disputed, but even if it were true, the most it might suggest is a possible beginning of the end in the pause -- or slowdown -- of warming for the last eighteen years. It might not be that beginning, just an anomaly. It also might or might not be related to human activity. No one disputes the fact that the climate is warming; the key issue is whether the cause is human activity. The rate of increase may be what is important -- is the climate warming faster now than in earlier periods when it is agreed that greenhouse gasses were not a major cause --say before 1945? And then -- even if it is shown that greenhouse gasses and temperatures rise at the same time, correlation is not the same as causation. The pause -- or slowdown -- of the last eighteen years occurred despite an increase in greenhouse gasses -- suggesting that the relationship between gasses and temperature is imperfectly understood. Some interesting observations on these matters may be found at "Misleading Information on Global Warming," by S. Akasofu former director of the Arctic Research Center. http://people.iarc.uaf.edu/~sakasofu/pdf/misleading.pdf